Quilters--Sixteen Blocks of Prairie Women's Lives

Back row:  Monica Turner, Dawn Hamilton, Sheila Devitt, Carolyn Montellato
Middle row:  Olivia Harrison, Kele Gasparini, Sandi Weldon, Rachel Watts
Front Center: Linda Dunn
Photo by Wendell H. Wilson

Ross Valley Player's production of Quilters is pieced together with love and stitched with pride.  Here is a musical delight to capture the whole family.  Quilters is a musical and a book by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek.  The story is about the lives of American pioneer women based on the book, The Quilters--Women and Domestic Art, An Oral History written by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Hall.  

Through a collection of different voices, Quilters is a patchwork of stories experienced by a family of pioneer women. These women share their life experiences, both the dramatic and everyday, as they create quilt blocks to record their tales.  The dialogue of the play is interspersed with song to heighten the effect.  "Coming from a long line of quilters, I was drawn to the play as a means to pay homage to the pioneer women of our country who told their stories through their art--quilts," says Director Linda Dunn.  

In the American West, a pioneer woman Sarah (Sandi V. Weldon) and six women who are called her daughters, face frontier life. Rather than a straight forward story line, this musical is presented as a series of short tales mated with musical numbers, each presenting an aspect of frontier life or womanhood.  The patches or blocks show girlhood, marriage, childbirth, spinsterhood, twisters, fires, illness and death. The patches are ultimately put together to form one dramatic tableaux.  

Sandi V. Weldon leads the ensemble as Sarah, the matriarch of a family that includes seven daughters played by Sheila M. Devitt, Kele Gasparini, Dawn Marie Hamilton, Olivia Harrison, Carolyn Montellato, Monica Turner and Rachel Watts.  Many of the cast of daughters fall easily into place in different roles as children, men of the prairie, wives, daughters or teachers.  

This new production at Ross Valley Players is more elaborate than ever with Bruce Lackovic's woody, rough-hewn set, Les Lizama's spectacular lighting, Michael A. Berg's authentic costuming, Linda Dunn's deft direction and Gloria Woods' musical direction which includes some amazing choreography.  

At times the prairie accent was a little hard to understand. However, with this production there is also love, warmly rich and lively humor and the moving spectacle of simple human dignity and steadfastness in the face of adversity.  

Quilters runs through Sunday, April 17 at Ross Valley Players, the Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross (cross street Lagunitas).  Performances are held Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 415-456-9555 or go online at www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be Rabbit Hole, a drama by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Mary Ann Rodgers, May 13-June 12, 2011.

Flora Lynn Isaacson